Changing our Homeschool Reading Lists to Recognize Other Voices and Experiences

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Building stronger critical thinkers in my children is the goal I have for my family. I am an analyst, and it is often hard for me to turn off my critical thinking and examination and simply enjoy a book, movie, art, music, etc, without considering the history and experience of the artist that has made it. I seek to know, to understand, and to address my ignorance of the space in which it originates. What I am often not careful of is my framework and bias. Am I framing my interpretation of this through a lens that ignores the perspectives and experiences, as well as their own critical analysis, of those who experience the period of history and create a cultural masterpiece to reflect that? I often try to address it bravely and listen to information that challenges my comfortable belief of what and how that world is, even if it makes me ashamed. When I unleash my children on the world at their graduation, I hope to give them the ability to examine the issues from all sides, and we start with literary works.

Last year our family spent our reading and critical literary analysis on something very different, the perspective of the North American indigenous peoples after their forced removal from their homeland and onto reservations, and the requirement for their children to attend residential schools to “remove the Indian.” The kids dove headlong into fiction books from those who lived these experiences and returned with significant discomfort. “How could this happen? This conflicts strongly with the morals, ethics, and religious precepts of time, why could they not see this? Where does our responsibility begin? Those people doing these bad things that go against our moral and ethical code live in, and are a part of, my world!” were the questions they returned with. Getting one child to even write a book report on a really good book was impossible because she felt not just guilt, but responsibility, and like some youth, couldn’t find a way to articulate her feelings.

We learned a valuable lesson. Listen to those voices and their experiences. Learning about them from authors who are not from their community is a form of romanticized erasure. Instead, respect those who struggled to have their stories or perspectives published and read from them. We took the time last year to discuss why this part of North American Indigenous history isn’t well known –because it’s far too uncomfortable and distant from what the popular narrative is. The marginalized communities have not enjoyed mass popularity or historical acclaim for their work, unless it’s apologist or tones down the emotions evoked to the point where readers miss the point or can easily shrug off feelings for the next good book. With the recent headlines in Canada, and potentially soon in the U.S., of unmarked graves at residential schools of children taken from their families for erasure of their culture, the news resonated with my children. They knew not to keep scrolling, they knew what those graves meant, the pain of the tribes and family, and had the knowledge to articulate the relevance of all of this to their friends. Knowledge of these graves are not new to the North American Indigenous community, they just didn’t have the golden white key for being believed–irrevocable evidence. They just weren’t listened to. Sadly, it didn’t hurt that there were high numbers to cause embarrassment, and a means to reach and resonate with a global audience that would show solidarity in numbers that couldn’t be ignored by those having the power to do nothing about it.

So when we read classics like The Island of the Blue Dolphins, The Indian in the Cupboard, Caddie Woodlawn, and The Sign of the Beaver it was a trip down popular, easy-to-digest memory lane, to a time when in that distant past where we can say, “those things happened, nothing I can do about it now.” But what we should do moving forward is ask, “How did those things shape the lives of North American indigenous peoples today?” and “What are their stories of survival now?” The following is a short list of the books we used to listen to voices that are not heard. We purchased them through the website www.strongnations.com.

Fatty Legs: A True Story

Two Roads

Five Little Indians

Stolen Words

I Lost My Talk

I’m Finding My Talk

Northwest Resistance

Pemmican Wars

Red River Resistance

Gaawin Gindaaswin Ndaawsii / I Am Not A Number

A Big Dose of Lucky

Good For Nothing

Stealing Indians 

Danny Blackgoat: Dangerous Passage

The Absolute True Story of a Part-Time Indian

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This post has been contributed anonymously.

Opinions expressed by individual writers in this blog do not necessarily reflect the views of the Board of Directors of The Organization of Virginia Homeschoolers, nor do they represent an official position of VaHomeschoolers.  Writers’ views are their own, and readers are encouraged to research and explore homeschooling issues to their own satisfaction.


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